Unemployment Levels: Motion.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 677 No. 4

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The following motion was moved by Deputy Róisín Shortall on Tuesday, 10 March 2009:

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Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

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—(Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan).

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  I commend the Labour Party on tabling this important motion. It is particularly timely in light of the unfortunate, if somewhat expected, increase in the live register figures in the past month. That the unemployment figure is likely to exceed 450,000, as the Taoiseach has acknowledged, is a matter of great concern to everyone.

I will speak principally to those aspects of the motion which are related to social and family affairs. We are all aware of the increasing number of unemployed. To date, no action has been taken to ensure a system is in place which will treat people who apply for social welfare entitlements fairly and with dignity. In some areas people must wait for only two weeks to have applications for social welfare payments processed while in others the waiting time is up to 16 weeks. Unemployment benefit applicants are worst affected by these delays which are having a massive knock-on effect on the community welfare system.

  7 o’clock

The longer I am a Member of the House, the more I realise how little joined-up government we have. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Hanafin, has stated that community welfare officers are not her problem as they are the responsibility of the Department of Health and Children. The Minister must accept that she is responsible for recipients of social welfare benefits. I have been unable to secure a satisfactory answer to the following question. How can a community welfare officer obtain all the information he or she needs from a person to adjudicate on an interim supplementary payment application within five days or one week when the Department of Social and Family Affairs takes up to 16 weeks to arrive at a decision? Community welfare officers, in making supplementary welfare payments, must have a good idea that applicants will be ultimately [802]adjudged to be eligible for the payment. They do not hand out money willy-nilly but make good assessments within a few days, without forcing people to wait for long periods, as the Department does.

While I appreciate that additional staff have been transferred to work in the social welfare system, the number is not sufficient. We must bear in mind the training requirements for those working in the Department. These are technical roles and one cannot expect people to be able to do the job immediately. Change is needed and more staff must be deployed to this area to enable applicants to access their entitlements. The problem with making people wait for a payment is that it causes them to delay paying off debts. Although mortgages are of greatest concern, people also have to pay ESB and gas bills and credit union and car loans. They ran up bills or took out loans at a time when they did not envisage becoming unemployed. Suddenly they find themselves in major difficulty and unable to pay their bills or repay their loans.

A major problem has arisen in the administration of the mortgage interest supplement, largely because community welfare officers are extremely busy. The Money Advice and Budgeting Service requires additional resources to enable it to employ people with expertise in the mortgage area who are able to negotiate with financial institutions on behalf of MABS clients. The moratorium on repossessions does not go far enough as it applies only to the main financial institutions. The problem persists among sub-prime lenders which are not subject to the moratorium. These institutions actively encouraged people to consolidate all their loans, including those for holidays and so forth, in their mortgages using their homes as security. People in this position now find that the mortgage interest supplement is only payable on the portion of their mortgage which relates to their home. While it may not have been a responsible decision to consolidate loans in mortgages, people took this decision in a different climate and are now finding it difficult to cope. Changes are needed in this area. MABS, for example, should be resourced to tackle the problem.

On the back to education allowance, we heard a great deal about education and training at the recent Fianna Fáil Party Ard-Fheis and the Government made an announcement in this area this evening. We must ensure people do not have to wait 12 months to become eligible for the back to education payment but are instead facilitated to attend a third level course. Under the current criteria, a person who loses his or her job in October must wait for 12 months before becoming eligible for the allowance. At that point, however, the college term for the following year will have commenced and the person will have to wait 23 months before being able to commence a third level course. Despite the 12-month eligibility condition many applicants must wait for much longer. Even as matters stand, 12 months is too long to wait.

While I accept exceptions have been made for employment action plan and redundancy areas, only a small number of people have managed to access courses through this stream. I ask the Minister to review the eligibility criteria for the back to education allowance. We need to ensure that rather than being a purely negative event, the loss of one’s job will be regarded by some people at least as an opportunity to change career direction or up-skill. Quicker access to the allowance would mean that losing one’s job would not be a major crisis for some individuals. The difference between the back to education allowance and jobseeker’s allowance is €500 per annum. The implementation of the former lacks common sense and must be changed.

Deputy Ulick Burke: Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  I thank Deputy Enright for sharing time. I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words on this important motion. Week after week, throughout the country, we hear announcements of job losses. The Government has shown itself to be helpless to take action to stem the tide of unemployment and job losses. In addition to the Minister and the Government, the agencies charged with the responsibility of creating jobs have failed to show initiative to create new jobs or safeguard existing jobs.

[803]I have raised previously with the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, a decision to shed a large number of jobs at the CIGNA company in Loughrea. The jobs in question were not in manufacturing and were transferred abroad. The loss of such a large number of service jobs was unique in the west. The IDA, Enterprise Ireland and other agencies failed to intervene immediately to identify what could be rescued in the time available before the company closed its outlet. When asked what action it could take, Enterprise Ireland stated it could provide a maximum of €5,000 for consultancy to generate new items of production. This shows how much at sea the agency was with regard to this industry. All I asked it to do was to be proactive in County Galway, which is haemorrhaging jobs, by auditing the needs of factories and industries it had helped to establish or nurture during the good times to ensure further jobs were not lost. It has not done so.

We were informed that a new economic forum — we no longer have task forces — has been established. The idea that such a forum would not sit in the area where job losses have taken place is foreign to me. The forum in question, which was established under the chairmanship of the county manager, sits at county buildings in Galway, far removed from the reality of what occurred. With such a detached, arm’s length attitude, we will not make any progress. Nevertheless, I appreciate the Minister of State’s successful efforts to attract funding from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund to assist ongoing training for those affected by unemployment.

People want to work and those who have lost their jobs want to up-skill to enable them to return to the workplace. In this regard, I ask the Minister of State to consider two proposals. Community employment schemes have been a valuable asset in creating jobs in areas in which no employment alternatives were available. Under these schemes, community work was done which would not otherwise have been done. Many people involved in these schemes acquired skills which allowed them, in the boom times, to create work for themselves and move off the live register. I ask the Minister of State to ensure these schemes are supported.

I also ask the Minister of State to take action to eliminate the barriers faced by those who wish to access the back to education allowance. People do not want to sit at home and dwell on the fact that they have lost their jobs. I ask that action be taken to ensure back to education allowances are available to those who need them in the near future.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher): Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  I wish to share time with Deputies Nolan, Brady, O’Connor, White and Moynihan.

When talking about issues such as this it is appropriate that every Deputy, whether on the Government or the Opposition side, is fully aware of the major difficulties caused to families by unemployment or the fear of losing jobs. We should not politicise things. I am not accusing the Deputies opposite, but the general media comment that somehow the Government is unaware of the challenges confronting families across the country does a disservice to every Member elected to this House. We meet constituents on a daily and weekly basis and we are fully aware of the concerns and plights of families throughout the country who are facing the prospect of unemployment.

We must first acknowledge why we are in these difficulties. There are many factors relevant to this debate. The global credit crisis is causing major distress across the broader economy. That is something most people are beginning to acknowledge. I am delighted that even the Labour Party has acknowledged that the credit crisis is having a major impact on the jobs and lives of ordinary people in this State on a daily basis.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  We have been saying that since last November and the Government has not taken action on it.

[804]Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  I welcome the fact that the Labour Party has moved to this point. However, I must mention, as I have many times, that in Ireland’s hour of need on 29 September 2008, when the Government had to make a major decision to provide the bank guarantee, it was unfortunate that the Labour Party decided to be populist and not support this critical decision in the context of the banking crisis facing Ireland.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  We have seen how advisable that decision was.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  To talk about the need for due diligence reports——

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  The Minister should talk about his area of responsibility and his failure to take any action.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  We can talk about due diligence reports and the rest of it.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  What about the Minister’s own area of responsibility, in which he is doing nothing at the moment?

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  At that time banks were collapsing frequently in Europe.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  A thousand jobs a day, and the Minister does not seem to be paying attention.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Allow the Minister of State to make his contribution.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  More importantly, it stemmed from the subprime crisis in the United States. We must acknowledge the considerable international context. Ireland must deal with the issues it can deal with in the context of our own budgets. The Government recently announced there would be a supplementary budget in early April. That is simply because we have no choice but to make difficult and unpopular decisions. It is fine for people to come in here, table motions and speak on them, but we must be honest with ourselves. Ireland is in a fragile state not only in the context of our own budgetary position——

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Is the Minister using that as an excuse for not doing anything?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Please allow the Minister to make his contribution.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  ——but also because of the weakening of sterling against the euro, which makes it difficult for Irish exporters to trade in the UK market, and because the US itself, on which we are heavily dependent for foreign direct investment, is suffering due to the credit crisis. Those two issues are of crucial importance. To simplify the debate by stating that Fianna Fáil is levying public sector workers or making populist announcements from time to time——

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  The Minister should address the motion and account for what he is doing.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  It is important to put it in context. I will address the motion.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Please allow the Minister to continue.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  At times when we ask for solidarity, it is important that we engage in serious debate on this issue. I am glad Deputy Penrose at least acknowledged that the [805]financial crisis is the most immediate issue facing Ireland at present. That in itself is a move forward for the Labour Party.

I attended a Council of Ministers meeting on Monday and the EU is at one in addressing the issue of the jobs crisis.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister has one minute left.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  We are still waiting to hear what the Minister is doing.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  There will be a meeting of Heads of State on 7 April to discuss this serious issue. I assure the House that every country within the European zone is facing rising unemployment and haemorrhaging of jobs. It is not exclusive to Ireland.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  The Minister is doing nothing about it.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  It must be dealt with in a co-ordinated manner. Not only must Ireland get its own house in order, but the European Union must come in and assist vulnerable states. I was surprised at the understanding and empathy from colleagues at the Council of Ministers. They were understanding of Ireland’s particular position. I must point out again that we are not alone. It is not uniquely Irish; it is something with which we must deal collectively in a Europe-wide context.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Not a single idea or solution. The Minister is a disgrace.

Deputy M. J. Nolan: Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  We are living in extraordinarily difficult times and there is not a family in the country that has not been affected either by unemployment or by the threat of unemployment. We come across this in our daily work as politicians.

Deputy Róisín Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  They have no idea. They are throwing their hands in the air.

Deputy M. J. Nolan: Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  The fear and, in some cases, anger that is out there must be seen to be appreciated. It is in that context that I appeal to the Government to do what it can to ensure that as many jobs as possible are retained. Some Irish companies are still operating profitably, while others are under threat because of the global economic crisis and the lack of domestic demand. However, I appeal to the Minister to consider cases in which we do have jobs and contracts.

I became aware last week of a particular case in which Iarnród Éireann awarded a contract for upgrading of equipment in Rosslare to an Irish company which then subcontracted its work to foreign companies. I know of two companies that tendered for that business but did not succeed as they were slightly more expensive. However, the work is now going to foreign companies, one of which is in Finland, although I do not know where the other one is located. While it is possible to hide behind the independence of the Government, the Departments and semi-state bodies, there should be a certain loyalty on the part of Irish bodies in view of the situation we are in and the numbers on the unemployment register and they should look more favourably on Irish companies where there is the possibility of retaining jobs. Once people go on the live register, it will be hard to find jobs for them. I ask the Minister of State and all Ministers to notify their Departments that, where possible, and within reason, we should keep contracts in Ireland.

I also ask the Minister to request that his officials use a light touch with regard to regulation of commercial organisations. We are all aware of the difficulties being experienced in the catering trade. The costs for companies in this area are relatively high compared to those of [806]their European partners and the area of regulation is of concern to them. They feel that at times they have been unduly pressurised and that they are spending time and money on book-keeping and record-keeping that would be more profitably spent increasing their business and reducing costs.

I also request that more resources and manpower be provided to the Department of Social and Family Affairs, whose staff are working under extraordinary pressure to cope with the number of applications for jobseeker’s benefit and allowance. We are talking about people who have never in their working lives had to go near a social welfare office. The role of MABS is also important. It is doing a wonderful job, but it needs to be properly resourced and funded to deal with the urgent cases it sees on a daily basis.

Deputy Cyprian Brady: Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion because we are where we are in these particular times. The Taoiseach recently described the current circumstances as the worst global economic situation in the past 70 years.

It behoves us to ensure that the measures we introduce protect to the greatest extent possible those who are in employment or are seeking work. The decisions we make over the coming weeks will influence those who are currently attending schools and colleges. I was delighted that the Tánaiste set out her priority as “jobs, jobs, jobs”. We are all aware that the decisions we make will be tough for people and families but we must make them in the context of retaining employment and providing alternatives for those who have lost their jobs or are on short working hours due to the economic climate. Families throughout the country are having to cope with two and three day working weeks.

Having worked in employment exchanges in the 1980s, I understand the effects these changes will have on families and individuals. We must do all we can do to encourage people to return to the workforce as soon as possible and to retain the jobs that currently exist. We must plan for the time when the economy improves once again. The most basic lesson in economics is that economies throughout the world experience peaks and troughs. Recent announcements demonstrate that we are still managing to attract foreign direct investment in spite of the current economic climate,.

Last night, the Tánaiste outlined how Departments, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, FÁS and other State agencies are pulling together to focus on jobs and growth in the short to medium term. When we needed agencies such as ANCO and Manpower, they worked for us. FÁS and the other agencies are critical to employment and the experience they have gained through the programmes they have put in place will allow for a sustained focus on jobs.

I made the point at a meeting with industry representatives last night that if one is without a job, one does not pay tax. It is in everybody’s interest to ensure that as many people as possible remain in employment and that we seek alternatives for those who lose their jobs.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I commend the Labour Party and, in particular, Deputy Shortall and my friend, Deputy Penrose, on allowing us to discuss a range of issues. As Acting Chairman last night, I was enthralled by Deputy Penrose’s contribution. The Tánaiste acknowledged that the Deputy made several positive suggestions.

Unlike Deputy Brady, I have not worked in a labour exchange but I have been a client of the exchange in Tallaght. I have mentioned this to Deputy Enright on three occasions.

Deputy Olwyn Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  I know.

[807]Deputy Charlie O’Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  That experience helps me to assist people because I can understand the challenges they face. I live in Tallaght, where 7,261 people were unemployed in January. That is a huge figure for the third largest population centre in the country.

I cut my political teeth as a founder member of Get Tallaght Working in 1984, when jobs were a major issue. I am not afraid to speak about Tallaght’s needs or the 24,000 young people who are still in school in Tallaght. The infrastructure in Tallaght is tremendous but we need the same help as everyone else. I will not compete with other Deputies or claim that jobs should be created in Dublin rather than Westmeath, Carlow, Tullamore or Wexford but we are all entitled to speak for our constituents.

I concur with my colleagues on the need to do all we can to assist people. Two weeks ago, I was anxious to invite my party colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Hanafin, to Tallaght in order to visit the family resource centre and An Cosán in Killinarden and the local MABS centre and Citizens Information Bureau in Tallaght village. She saw for herself the challenges that people are facing.

The last call I received before coming to the Chamber this evening was from a constituent from Kilnamanagh who worked in SR Technics. When the news about that company broke, I was concerned for north Dublin and the employees who would be affected. My constituent wanted me to share his concerns about the job he held at the company for the past 31 years. He is typical of many of the company’s employees. The Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, must do what they can in this regard. Workers have expressed concern that the Dublin Airport Authority is putting down deposits on hangars. A case can be made for reaching out to the workers to see what can be done. If it is true that the company is not prepared to consider offers for the Dublin facility, Government agencies should get involved.

An innovative project from Institute of Technology Tallaght, ITT, provides an example of what is needed nationally to retrain, support and energise those who have been unfortunate to lose their jobs. Increasing numbers are losing their jobs in the current economic recession. Many may want to take the opportunity to gain a third level qualification but are unsure if they would be able to study at third level.

ITT has developed a new and innovative programme for those who are unemployed and are seeking to retrain and up-skill for the knowledge economy. A certificate in preparatory study for third level, special purpose award level 6 research, has shown that adult learners often lack confidence when they are faced with the prospect of returning to education. ITT is opening up the college to prospective students and giving them core confidence building skills in the areas of communications, personal development and study techniques. The programme also provides participants with tastes of a range of subjects in areas that would improve their prospects for future employment to help them choose the right programme. While attending the programme individuals remain available for employment, which means their welfare benefits are not adversely affected. Participants who successfully complete the programme gain an accredited special purpose award at level 6. Once again, Tallaght is showing the way.

Other speakers have criticised county enterprise boards but, with a little bit of tweaking, these organisations can continue to play a valuable role.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White: Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  Behind the unemployment statistics are the lives of real people with mortgages and bills to pay and families to feed and support. They face terrible uncertainty over whether they can find employment in the short term. We must recognise this and focus on getting people back to work so they have the satisfaction of financial security.

My colleagues, the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, have provided some positive ideas through [808]the recent national insulation programme and the water management investment scheme and have given an incentive to people to get back to work. Almost 4,000 jobs will be sustained through investment in water infrastructure and an estimated 10,000 jobs through the energy efficiency schemes, the home energy saving schemes, the warmer home schemes and the social housing insulation schemes. While this will not help everyone it is a significant start.

Under the auspices of FÁS, the Government is providing for the re-education of those in certain sectors through new training places. A new training fund is being established, which will facilitate those who face redundancy, help apprentices complete their studies and provide community employment schemes. The county enterprise boards are pushing out the boat to help people with good ideas to get up and running with start-up finance. I also acknowledge the Tánaiste’s recent commitment to 51,000 training places delivered through FÁS, increasing to 78,000 over time. That will give heart to those worried about their future.

While we have focused on those in the construction sector or the lower paid sector, we must think of the highly skilled who are losing their jobs. Almost 45% of architects are out of work. Engineers, graphic design artists and editors have degrees, are highly trained and have skills but where will they go? In previous times, Irish men and women went to America, England and New Zealand, but they are experiencing the same global downturn. We must find creative ways to get ourselves out of this hole and make sure the skilled who have lost their jobs have the chance to re-enter the work force. Many of those who have contacted me who are still in employment have taken a 30% pay cut to keep their companies going and they are happy to do it to get through these hard times.

For these groups of unemployed, there is a difficult path back into the work force. They are unable to re-skill in the same way as builders or carpenters can be trained to adapt to the national insulation programme so they must try something different. This is where we can do it in Ireland. With the knowledge economy and the roll out of broadband, many of these people could work from home on a global basis. An architect in Ireland could draw up plans for a client in England, Switzerland, France or Spain. Broadband is the key to development, particularly in a rural constituency like Carlow-Kilkenny or those of other colleagues in the Dáil who live in rural areas. If we have top quality broadband rolled out, there is a chance people can network, set up their own businesses at home, connect to the global community and, perhaps, unemployment could kick-start their careers and spur them to set up their own business. We must look at the skilled in the private sector who have lost their jobs as well as the unskilled because they will find it difficult.

We hope there will be 100% broadband coverage by 2010 with 50% coverage by the end of this year. There are no grounds for complacency. Long-term unemployment is socially upsetting and has huge financial implications, with emotional effects on families, and not just on the husband or wife but on the children, who pick up on it when things are not right at home or people are in bad humour. People are in bad humour because they do not have a job.

The highly skilled must not be forgotten, the low skilled must be up-skilled and trained. There was good news this week, with Hewlett Packard announcing 500 jobs. Let us cross our fingers there will be further announcements like that.

Deputy Michael Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate. People’s lives are being affected by job losses and their knock-on effects. The current international financial crisis is the greatest challenge since the Great Depression. Historically, the collapse in 1929 was caused by an over-supply of products that no one wanted to buy. The greatest difficulty we face is that there is a global economic downturn and we exported 80% of what we manufac[809]tured. Our main markets were Britain, the European Union and America. They are experiencing an even greater downturn than us — the USA lost 600,000 jobs in January — and there is no demand for our product.

The Government and other State agencies must find out what will be needed in the market place. Someone put it bluntly to me last night, saying that if there was a street where they had enough shovels, no one would try to sell shovels there. We must be targeted in our approach.

We face our greatest ever economic crisis. We talk about the 1980s and 1950s but we must be innovative. We must make a huge effort in research and development. Many small and medium size business are experiencing huge difficulty with financing from the banks and that difficulty must also be addressed. The Government is trying to do that with recapitalisation. It will be difficult, however, because the privately owned banks have decided they will not put any more credit into the system. Like ordinary people, they are afraid to invest. The real difficulty is that small to medium sized enterprises that have grown in the last 15 years are stretched. They need to be innovative and branch out.

We should be encouraging these people to look at innovative ideas to get people back to work, manufacturing products that are needed and wanted in the market place. The difficulty is that not just the domestic market but the international markets have collapsed and a huge stimulus package from the European Union will be necessary. We must have a product available that we manufacture in Ireland. We have an excellent workforce that is highly educated but it is up to the Government and State agencies to ensure we have the edge when there is an economic upturn. This is the greatest challenge facing us since 1929.

Deputy Jack Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  I wish to share time with Deputies Tuffy, Upton, Sherlock and Jan O’Sullivan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Jack Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  I acknowledge yesterday’s announcement by Hewlett-Packard to provide 500 new jobs in County Kildare with the possible extension of that figure over time. It gives a boost to Kildare in these current economic difficulties and it would be remiss of us if that were not acknowledged.

Redundancy places much pressure and concerns on families. Every Member has referred to the problems faced by those who have to attend social welfare and community welfare offices for unemployment payments. As the numbers rise quickly, many people are forced to queue in the streets in all sorts of weather, despite the best efforts of social welfare staff. Recently, I spoke about this to the manager in the Kildare town social welfare office and as a result five extra staff were appointed.

Due to the backlog in processing claims and the delay in payments, many people have had to go to their community welfare officers. The officers have been inundated with calls from people seeking assistance payments with mortgage relief and, in many cases, for just putting food on the table.

I asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to provide back-up staff for community welfare officers to deal with the increasing numbers of claimants to be informed that Professor Brendan Drumm, chief executive of the Health Service Executive, would provide them. Everyone knows from this evening’s headlines that the Health Service Executive is cutting back nearly all its services. There is no hope of community welfare officers getting any back-up staff. Will the Minister address this staffing issue comprehensively to ensure people are assisted? If we are waiting for Brendan Drumm to do it, it simply will not happen.

[810]I have raised with the Minister on a previous occasion the matter of apprentices in SR Technics. Last week I met the apprentices with other Labour Party Members. It is a pity that such highly trained personnel are not able to complete their apprenticeships. I hope the Government will address this matter.

Deputy White referred to the national building insulation programme, an initiative that will hopefully gain momentum. There is, however, a problem with the grants being set too low. For example, the grant for the insulation of a roof comes to €250. The minimum costing I have got in my area from contractors is €700. That leaves a substantial cash shortfall for the home owner which would be particularly difficult for senior citizens. If this is allowed to remain, we will be wondering this time next year why the grants were not drawn down.

No local authority has received funding for care of the elderly grants. I put down several parliamentary questions on this matter to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with responsibility for housing, Deputy Michael Finneran. He claimed he was, against the tide, providing an extra 8% in grants yet no decision has been made in regard to providing the funding.

Deputy Stagg and I recently attended a meeting of Kildare County Council which has committed grants of €2 million and uncommitted grants of €5 million, a total of €7 million. The injection of that amount of money by a local authority would have an immediate positive effect on the building trade. More importantly, the senior citizen would benefit accordingly. Every local authority has lists of elderly people who need their houses repaired with, for example, downstairs showers installed. It would be a wonderful initiative if the Government provided that funding in tandem with the national insulation programme.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy: Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  I propose all city and county development boards should be constituted as employment taskforces for the duration of this economic crisis. The reason for my proposal is that the response to the recent job losses, for example, at Dell in Limerick was to establish an employment taskforce. When Deputy Rabbitte was a Minister of State, he established job taskforces in response to job losses in Tallaght and other places. Rather than waiting to establish a jobs taskforce in response to company closures, it might be a better approach to have the taskforce already established. The make-up of an employment taskforce is the same as city and country development boards with all the agencies involved being on both. These boards would be ideally placed, meaning new organisations would not have to be set up. The South County Dublin Development Board has already set itself up as an employment support forum. This is the model for other boards across the country.

The job losses in south County Dublin, the local authority area in which I reside and represent, are the equivalent of several Dell closures. This is being mirrored in many parts of the country. Jobs lost here and there add up to sizeable numbers. There is, however, not the same response if it were one single factory closure. The county development boards would be able to ensure every responsible organisation with which they engage, such as the county councils, the VECs, FÁS, the IDA and the Departments of Social and Family Affairs and Education and Science, would come up with proposals and initiatives to support local job creation and jobseekers. A board could ask, for example, what its county council could do to support existing businesses, to maintain existing jobs and to expand the workforce. The local FÁS office could examine what it could do to provide opportunities for jobseekers through training, education and employment schemes. Other organisations could examine the local demographic profiles and match them with the type of jobs we need to create for the future, particularly in sustainable and environmentally clean alternative energy.

[811]An OECD report suggested community employment schemes should not be expanded but alternative schemes examined. I would, however, expand the existing community employment schemes. In 1995, more than 40,000 places were available on community employment schemes while now there are only 20,000 places. Unemployment has returned as a major problem, with graduates, construction workers and those who worked in manufacturing joining the dole queues.

When I left college, I worked on what was then called a social employment scheme in the administration and clerical areas. Eventually, I obtained a permanent job, trained further and became a solicitor. We need to provide similar opportunities for people who are graduating now, otherwise they will be obliged to emigrate or go on the dole. I do not necessarily believe that people on community employment schemes would be paid more than they would obtain in the form of jobseeker’s benefit or allowance. However, they would at least be able to go to work. People want to develop their CVs, obtain work experience and learn new skills. It is important that a higher level of training be provided on such schemes than has been the case in the past.

An article in today’s edition of The Irish Times states that a report compiled in England shows that college is the healthiest option for school leavers during times of recession. In other words, it is much better for them to attend college rather than go on the dole. The Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, recently made the point that the abolition of third level fees did nothing to improve access to college. The opposite is the case. HEA reports show that, since the Labour Party abolished fees in 1998, participation rates in third level education have improved among the members of every socioeconomic group.

The Government should give consideration to the serious damage it will do if it reintroduces third level fees. School leavers will be discouraged from attending college and will end up on the dole. As already stated, it is much better for people to be in employment — which would be ideal — attending college or on a community employment scheme.

Deputy Mary Upton: Information on Mary Upton  Zoom on Mary Upton  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Despite the outpouring of documentation from the Government in the form of various action plans, programmes for recovery, etc., nothing has been done to stem the haemorrhage of jobs out of the economy. Large and small businesses across every sector are being affected by the current crisis relating to the loss of jobs.

I join previous speakers in welcoming yesterday’s announcement that Hewlett Packard is to create 500 new jobs. However, the fact is that some 500 people are being made redundant every 12 hours. While yesterday’s announcement is welcome, against the background of 500 jobs being lost every 12 hours, these new jobs represent a mere drop in the ocean.

We are beyond the point where blame for the scale of the economic crisis can be apportioned to those who over-egged the pudding in respect of the construction sector and turned our country into a grey as opposed to a green Ireland. Wherever one goes, one will come across buildings and construction sites that are becoming derelict. What is required is quick and systematic action. However, we have not seen signs of such action as yet. This matter was debated in the House last October. In the interim, there has been no coherent or discernible strategy for getting people back to work or ensuring that they retain their existing jobs. During the period in question, almost 100,000 individuals have joined the live register.

Our first action must be to address the crisis faced by businesses if we are to stem the job losses that are costing the Exchequer an enormous amount of money on a daily basis. Despite the State guaranteeing the major financial institutions, it is an open secret that the banks are not playing their part for the good of the Irish economy. It appears they have shored up their [812]own balance sheets, while ruthlessly cutting people’s overdrafts and their access to cash. This type of behaviour is very damaging for small to medium enterprises that are extremely dependent on cash flows and their ability to borrow even relatively small amounts of money. Members have all heard evidence, some of it anecdotal in nature, of the refusal on the part of banks to provide people with even modest loans. The unfortunate outcome is that when a small or medium enterprise is obliged to close down, five, ten or 50 people are obliged to join the dole queue. The Government must ensure that the banks taxpayers now own provide money in order that jobs can be retained or created.

We must offer real opportunities to those who were recently made redundant. In order to do this we must reform the social welfare system. Anyone who lost a job in recent months should be offered immediate access to training or re-education opportunities or — depending on their skills and ability and whether it is their choice — to enterprise schemes in order that they might start up their own businesses if they so desire. This can be achieved if the will to do it exists.

Community employment schemes must be revamped. Almost all previous speakers and everyone to whom I spoke in recent days indicated that there is nothing to be gained from people being on social welfare when they could be doing something constructive and productive. Community employment schemes cost relatively little if they are run properly. Overall they would be of great value to communities because people’s dignity would be restored by virtue of the fact that they would have something useful to do. I am aware of an individual in my constituency who was doing extremely good work with teenagers at a boxing club but who was refused an extension in respect of the scheme he was on. That person is now on the live register but he would have loved to continue doing useful work for himself and his community.

I have been in contact with agencies such as Age Action and Energy Action which are concerned that they may be obliged to reduce their services. If that were to happen, it would be a disaster. Why can we not place the tens of thousands of construction workers who are on the dole on community employment schemes designed to upgrade local authority and senior citizen housing? Elderly people living alone often require small maintenance jobs to be carried out. Why can we not engage people to carry out those jobs rather than obliging them to remain on jobseeker’s benefit or allowance?

  8 o’clock

There are many people who have graduated from college but who cannot obtain employment in their chosen professions. The State invested an enormous amount of money in training and educating these people but they are now unemployed. I refer to physiotherapists, occupational therapists, engineers, architects, etc. There is a major demand among elderly people for the services of physiotherapists, and schools and hospitals are crying out for speech therapists and occupational therapists. Why is it not possible to employ some of these people in the areas to which I refer in order that they might use their skills and remain in touch with their professions? If they were so employed, there would not be a need to retrain or up-skill them at a later date. There is a need for these people’s services and action should be taken in order that they might be in a position to provide them.

The Labour Party has been criticised on a regular basis for not putting forward ideas. My colleagues and I have put forward many ideas in respect of this motion and we hope that they will be taken on board.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  I wish to provide an example of one of the ways in which we might assist people who have recently become unemployed. I refer to the provision of State-backed loans to allow people to return to postgraduate education. A number of months ago I was [813]contacted by a friend of mine who resides in the west. The man in question graduated from UCG in the mid-1990s and has since worked as a design engineer for a blue chip company. He is highly qualified but he was made redundant because the American company for which he was working filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. After 12 years, my friend was offered a statutory redundancy package. He now proposes to embark on an MBA programme but in order to do so he will be obliged to put up €16,000 from his own savings. When one considers that he is getting married later in the year, there is no doubt this is quite an amount of money.

He approached his local county council, the local enterprise board and FÁS but he was turned down by each for funding to assist him to retrain and up-skill so that when things get better he could return to the jobs market. If that person was provided with a loan from the State, specifically for postgraduate studies, he told me he would be more than willing to draw it down if he could repay it as soon as he re-enters the workforce. He would be willing to pay an administrative fee and even a low rate of interest on the loan. I see the logic of his suggestion. If we can fund the banks to the tune of €7 billion, I do not understand why we cannot direct those banks to provide lending for people in such circumstances. They cannot pay exorbitant postgraduate fees at present because every cent they have must go on keeping life and limb together. The money they have is real income that will be used, in this person’s case, for survival and to keep food on the table.

There must be lateral thinking about where we are going. The old paradigms relating to how we allocated resources and money have gone out the window. There is an opportunity now to come up with radical proposals. Let us not be afraid to embrace radical proposals on how to get back on our feet. If the person I mentioned was given that assistance, he would not squander it. Everything he has done has been achieved through hard work. That is, generally, the nature of the Irish psyche. Nobody wants anything for free and if they can get some form of assistance, they are willing to pay for it if it is given in an equitable fashion.

The Governor of the Central Bank addressed the economic regulatory affairs committee yesterday. He said the country’s competitiveness has been on the wane for some time. If this Government intends to put forward a budget shortly, it must examine the issue of competitiveness and the cost of employing people in the current environment. Employers’ PRSI must be changed in some way to make it easier for employers to retain employees. The Government must deal with this in its deliberations on the budget.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  My colleagues welcomed the announcement of extra jobs at Hewlett-Packard. I welcome them too but, unfortunately, my constituency is about to lose 1,800 jobs in Dell and many more jobs in ancillary companies. As Deputy Upton pointed out, the number of jobs created in Hewlett-Packard is the same as the number of jobs being lost every 12 hours. We are in an extraordinarily serious situation.

I am sorry the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, is not present as he might have been able to answer a question for me. The EU globalisation training fund is available for Dell workers. The fund was set up by the EU to compensate and provide training opportunities for workers who are losing their jobs due to displacement as a result of globalisation. I have raised this matter twice with the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, but I was told that no application has been made for the fund. The reason given is that the redundancy notices have not been sent to the Dell workers. However, I have spoken to some of those workers and the redundancy letters went out to them over a week ago. I seek a Government response on this important issue. That fund is needed now. The first group of workers will leave their jobs in April, so I urge the Government to apply immediately for the fund. Funds from that fund have been provided to other European countries for job losses.

[814]I support the point made by Deputy Wall. The Department of Social and Family Affairs has allocated extra staff to social welfare offices but the Department of Health and Children has not provided extra community welfare officers or extra support in community welfare offices. Those officers are under huge pressure to deal with the number of people coming to their offices. While awaiting decisions from social welfare officers, people must go to community welfare officers to get short-term payments, mortgage interest relief and the other payments to which they are entitled. There appears to be no money in the Department of Health and Children.

I made the point in the debate on health yesterday that while the Government has provided funding to the Department of Social and Family Affairs to address shortcomings arising as a result of the jobs situation, there does not appear to be any funding allocated from other Departments to the Department of Health and Children to address the issues that arise directly in that Department. An extra €170 million, for example, will have to be found to provide for medical cards, while €100 million will be forgone from the health levy. That burden should be borne across Departments. I strongly support Deputy Wall regarding the problems people are encountering when they go to community welfare officers.

There are many issues confronting people who must, for the first time, apply to the State for support in these difficult times. I met a person today who had taken out insurance on his car loan to ensure that if he ever became unemployed, he could defer the payment of the loan. He was signing on at the social welfare office but the staff at the office told him they could not stamp the form because they had not yet decided his claim. He went to the community welfare officer but was told they could not stamp the form because his wife was working so he did not qualify for supplementary welfare. Despite the fact that this man has paid for this insurance, he cannot get it because the system will not facilitate him. It is an example, among others given by my colleagues, of the lack of humanity in dealing with the problems people face when they are unemployed for the first time. These people really do not know how to deal with the system. We must address the practical problems they face.

The Oireachtas Library provides a very good research service. It circulated a document to Members on the social and economic indicators for February. That document has a section on exports. It is estimated that Ireland’s exports in 2008 amounted to €148.4 billion, which represents a fall of €3.9 billion compared to 2007. Obviously, this is a huge area of potential for job creation and, unfortunately, job losses. Some sectors are particularly strong, such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals, but the agrifood sector has decreased from €7.3 billion in 2007 to €6.8 billion in 2008, a loss of 6.4%. We must build on our strengths and one of them is surely our reputation as a food producer. Exports of beverages have decreased by 19.6%.

We hear a great deal about the Green Party and it policies, and the Minister of State with responsibility for food is from the Green Party. I have not heard a word from him about this issue. Surely to goodness we should not be losing export trade in the agrifood industry, of all sectors. I call on the Minister of State with responsibility for food to come forward with proposals on how we can produce more food and value added food products. In the supermarket one can see vegetables for sale that have been imported from halfway around the world. It must be possible for the Minister to produce some suggestions for this sector.

There are many other areas that could be developed, such as campus companies. There is much potential for such companies to develop and provide job opportunities. There are also local stimulus plans. There is a regeneration programme in Limerick which I believe is a local stimulus plan. There should be others throughout the country. We have many suggestions which we would love to see implemented.

[815]Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science (Deputy Seán Haughey): Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  Several of the ideas contained in this evening’s Private Members’ motion from the Opposition are interesting and worth further exploration. Over the past two evenings we have heard from the Tánaiste, Ministers and Deputies about the Government’s very real commitment to address the current rising unemployment problem and to take the necessary remedial actions to secure the country’s economic and social well-being. However, we should also acknowledge that our present economic crisis is being replicated throughout the world. We are not the only country to be suffering from a major contraction in the public finances and a significant increase in unemployment levels. If we look to our neighbours in the European Union and the United States, we can see that they too are struggling with the same issues we face.

I acknowledge that the scale of our current unemployment problem with approximately 355,000 people on the live register represents a daunting challenge. However, we can overcome it and we will. I am confident the Government will steer Ireland through our present difficulties and place us firmly on the road to recovery. I accept it will be a difficult and lengthy journey. Early next month on 7 April, the Government will introduce a supplementary budget to the House. The budget will contain difficult decisions that will be necessary to get the public finances back on track. The Government will take those decisions, as they will be in the long-term interests of the country.

The current unemployment situation will inform the Government’s thinking in regard to the supplementary budget. The Government is acutely aware of the harsh economic realities facing the individuals and families who are now depending on the social supports they receive from being on the live register. We are committed to providing every assistance to these individuals to enable them to get back into employment as soon as possible.

The House heard yesterday and again this evening of the numerous measures and initiatives that are currently in place, which are specifically designed to assist people who are now unemployed. Given the scale of the problem we have expanded the available supports and we will continue to examine how we can further improve the services to assist the unemployed. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Social and Family Affairs are all working closely to respond to the economic situation. Together, they are ensuring that appropriate responses are developed and put in place to meet the up-skilling needs of those who are losing their jobs or facing uncertain employment prospects.

By working closely together the Departments have already identified opportunities for increased collaboration between the institutes of technology, the vocational education colleges and FÁS. Given the current economic circumstances it is important that we ensure we are maximising our substantial investment in our education and training system. By doing so we can leverage increased supports to enable us to respond to the increasing numbers of unemployed.

As Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, with responsibility for lifelong learning, I can say that co-operation between the two Departments on the delivery of education and training has never been better. The two Departments are working closely together on employment activation.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  It is not having much effect.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Minister of State should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  The Deputy should be patient.

[816]Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Minister of State should tell that to the 350,000 unemployed.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  The co-operation between the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Department of Finance has never been closer and the Deputy will see the benefit of that in the coming weeks.

I am acutely aware of the importance of investing in the continued development of the skills and competencies of our workforce. This investment will provide Ireland with competitive advantage in the area of skills, which will be critical to our future success.

I also wish to outline to the House what is happening in regard to the further education sector. We will continue to provide supports under my Department’s further education sector. Over the past 12 years we have made significant progress in expanding the provision of further education, culminating in an investment of €414 million last year, which was a 400% increase on the equivalent 1997 figure. That increased investment allowed 145,000 learners to receive education and training last year.

Deputy Emmet Stagg: Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  The Minister of State should sit down before he makes it worse.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  The further education sector has an important role to play in the current economic crisis and we are continuing to evolve policy in that regard.

Deputy Liz McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  I wish to share my time with Deputy Joan Burton and Deputy Eamon Gilmore.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Liz McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  Losing one’s job is like having a bereavement. The impact can be as devastating and yet the individual is expected to carry on as normal even when the times we live in are anything but normal. The global and national economic crisis means that those in work are fearful for their future and those out of work have nowhere to turn. The Labour Party has tabled this motion in support of the thousands of people who find themselves unnerved, undermined and unemployed.

It is disturbing that the Government response is so inadequate. The commitment to ensuring the dignity of jobseekers rings particularly hollow. Even at the simplest level people who lose their jobs end up waiting, often for weeks, to have their applications processed. That delay can lead to added hardship because a local authority may not process a reduction in rent, for example, until the claim is processed.

That is not to be taken as any criticism of the staff in social welfare offices who are valiantly trying to keep up with the tsunami of applications. In one unemployment office with which I am familiar the transformation has been shocking. In August 2007 there were 1,768 people on the live register in Bray and there were approximately 20 staff. In March 2009 there are now 4,308 people on the live register and an additional 1,300 lone parents claims are dealt with in the local office, which used to be dealt with centrally. That means that in 17 months we have seen a 214% increase in activity with only a 35% increase in staffing. While new people arrive there is a massive backlog of approximately 1,000 unemployment claims to tackle.

Each one of those statistics is a person with a family affected and often with dependants to support. They are young and old, women and men, professional, unskilled and semi-skilled. On average, each one costs the State at least €20,000 to support. Tinkering around with FÁS training initiatives is not enough. Every organ of the State should be directed towards job retention and creation. State funding needs to be directed strategically to keep people at work. Every local authority should be involved in carrying out a building programme including improvements for elderly and disabled people, and in building social housing. There should be [817]a countrywide, comprehensive, energy efficiency retrofitting scheme. In previous recessions Labour Party Ministers had a good record of major council house building. Now we have an even more skilled and experienced cohort of construction workers willing and able to work and they are spending their time in line outside their dole office instead of on-site and building for the people.

Every project in the national development plan should be subject to a rigorous assessment both for its capability to keep people at work and for its value in national terms to the economy. For example, will the building of the metro ensure the jobs we want and the infrastructural benefit we need? Maybe or maybe not, but we do know ,without any doubt, that investment in educational facilities from primary and even pre-school up to tertiary will bring a return in both jobs and societal value. There is an urgent need for a serious jobs strategy, as Deputy Shortall has sought, but we are still waiting for the Government to come up with one. Why is that the case when the problem is becoming so acute?

Deputy Joan Burton: Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  I have been very taken aback by the fatalism about unemployment that the Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, and his Government have continuously displayed. We know the Government greeted the collapse of the building bubble with disbelief. We saw it handle the banking crisis in a way that was inept. We cannot allow the Government to approach unemployment in the same disastrous “know-nothing” way.

This June and September thousands of young people will leave college as newly qualified graduates. At the same time, many thousands more, particularly young men, will leave school hoping to get an apprenticeship. These young people are the best and the brightest and signing on the dole should not be an option for them.

I challenge the Government to develop new and innovative programmes to get such people into real work, traineeships, internships and apprenticeships. I want the Government to set targets for how many teaching and arts graduates for whom we can gainfully create traineeships and graduate internships in primary, secondary, third level and adult education. If the Government does nothing and people simply sign on, this will, at a crude economic level, cost the Government €200 per person per week. However, it will also cost the dreams and aspirations of a new generation that should be required to contribute productively to the country.

Professor Tom Collins in Maynooth recently sketched out the bones of such a scheme for the primary sector. This is what I call positive thinking. Properly done, we could persuade the European Union that this kind of scheme should receive the equivalent of European Social Fund support as part of one of the programme of measures that will kick-start the European economy, not least in Ireland. However, with Fianna Fáil now hanging around the European liberals in Europe, I doubt we will hear of any positive job creation in Fianna Fáil’s programme for Europe.

If we could do this for teachers and for the education sector in general, we could then address it to disciplines such as architecture, law and business. The skills of graduates in these areas could be utilised not just in the commercial sector, but in local authorities, community and voluntary organisations. People taking part in such schemes would be required, as a condition of participation, to continue their education to further appropriate levels, be that apprentice qualifications or, in the case of graduates, a masters' qualification.

The Government needs to think outside the box to give a sense of hope and purpose to people who are already unemployed or graduates, many of whom feel they have not much reason to graduate. I speak about this with some confidence because in 1993-94, as Minister of State in the Department of Social Welfare dealing with poverty and unemployment issues, I helped to pioneer a series of back-to-work and work schemes. Up to then, for example, students got the dole in summer time. However, following the introduction of the schemes we created, student summer schemes provided many students with gainful and interesting employment in [818]their local GAA clubs, community centres or elsewhere. I remember sitting down with combined students unions that protested that as students they wanted to retain the dole. However, the dole should not be a lifestyle option for anybody, least of all well educated students.

Last week, I and other Deputies met staff from SR Technics. These are highly skilled workers and apprentices most countries would kill to have, yet the Government seems entirely uncertain of how to create pathways from redundancy for them. Our universities and institutes of technology must be challenged to start making themselves seriously attractive to people who have become unemployed. So far, access programmes have been tinkering around the edges in terms of numbers. If this is a national emergency and if the Taoiseach’s numbers on unemployment are correct, then third level colleges must use their tremendous resources for the common good.

A traditional FÁS course will not necessarily do the trick this time round. In any event, FÁS as an organisation, like our banks, has problems that run so deep that it would be unwise to put all our hopes for up-skilling, training and re-education into that particular basket. We should let our third level colleges compete and if FÁS can compete with a better offer, well and good. The biggest bottleneck currently is that to avail of most Government schemes, people must first be registered unemployed for quite a long period. The Government must create initiatives that will prevent people going on the dole in the first place. It is a hopeless Government, but must it keep acting hopelessly towards the unemployed?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  I thank all Members who contributed to the discussion and compliment Deputies Róisín Shortall and Willie Penrose on bringing the motion to the House. I am extremely disappointed by the Government’s response to the motion. The amendment proposed by it is defensive, self-congratulatory and argues for business as usual.

The Government is abandoning the unemployed. In much of the commentary about our current economic circumstances, there has been little or no attention or consideration given to those losing their jobs. We all agree that the solution for people losing their jobs is to get new jobs and back into employment as soon as possible. However, while people who have lost their jobs are waiting for their new jobs to turn up, they must live and have an income. They must have something to do every day and must have the sense there is a future for them.

The Labour Party motion sets out eight specific measures to deal with the immediate needs of people who become unemployed. The Taoiseach acknowledged last week that the number of people likely to be unemployed here may be 450,000 or more by the end of this year. That is a significant number of people with immediate needs. We propose that they be treated with dignity at social welfare offices and with respect when they turn up to a community welfare officer seeking assistance. We want an understanding of needs and to ensure that measures are put in place to provide them with something to do and the opportunity to improve themselves while unemployed. They must be provided with opportunities that give them a sense of hope while they are waiting for new employment.

Unfortunately, however, what we got from the Government yesterday and this evening was the sense that it does not really grasp the scale of what is happening or realise the huge numbers of people becoming unemployed with real needs. For example, the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science spoke this evening about the moneys the Government has provided for further education. He is missing the point. In 2004, the Government put a cap on the number of people who could go into further education colleges or post-leaving certificate courses.

The year 2004 was the height of our economic boom and full employment. It was understandable then for the Government to decide it did not want people doing post-leaving certificate courses when they could well join the workforce. We are in a different situation now. The [819]cap on those places should be lifted immediately so that people becoming unemployed can get educational opportunities. We should use the infrastructure that exists to provide them.

Let me put the problem in practical terms for the Minister of State. In my constituency, the social welfare office or unemployment exchange is located in Cumberland Street. Like at many social welfare offices and employment exchanges, I have seen many unemployed people go to that office for the first time over the past few months. I have seen them queuing in the rain along Cumberland Street.

The Dún Laoghaire College of Further Education is just behind that office and it is capable of providing courses for many of the people going into the social welfare office. Next September, young people just leaving school will go to the social welfare office. They will never have had a job, will not be able to get a job and will claim unemployment or jobseeker’s payments. Would it not be better for those young people to simply go round the back of that office to the college to do a course? That would be better for them and their families. It would also be less expensive for the State. They would be doing a course for which at most they would qualify for a student grant, rather than being supported by unemployment payments for doing nothing. It would be better for them to have something useful to do, pursue a course and be better equipped to take up employment opportunities in the future.

The Government will have to break out of the straitjacket it is in regarding its thinking on the unemployed, the social services and the education services. It should put the pieces together and ensure there are services, educational opportunities and a new way to deal with a new and growing wave of unemployment that will be with us for at least some time until the economy improves and employment is provided.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 68; Níl, 65.

Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Ahern, Dermot. Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Ahern, Michael.
Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  Andrews, Barry. Information on Chris Andrews  Zoom on Chris Andrews  Andrews, Chris.
Information on Seán Ardagh  Zoom on Seán Ardagh  Ardagh, Seán. Information on Bobby Aylward  Zoom on Bobby Aylward  Aylward, Bobby.
Information on Niall Blaney  Zoom on Niall Blaney  Blaney, Niall. Information on Aine Brady  Zoom on Aine Brady  Brady, Áine.
Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  Brady, Cyprian. Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  Brady, Johnny.
Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  Browne, John. Information on Thomas Byrne  Zoom on Thomas Byrne  Byrne, Thomas.
Information on Dara Calleary  Zoom on Dara Calleary  Calleary, Dara. Information on Pat Carey  Zoom on Pat Carey  Carey, Pat.
Information on Niall Collins  Zoom on Niall Collins  Collins, Niall. Information on Margaret Conlon  Zoom on Margaret Conlon  Conlon, Margaret.
Information on Sean Connick  Zoom on Sean Connick  Connick, Seán. Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Coughlan, Mary.
Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Cregan, John. Information on Ciaran Cuffe  Zoom on Ciaran Cuffe  Cuffe, Ciarán.
Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Cullen, Martin. Information on Noel Dempsey  Zoom on Noel Dempsey  Dempsey, Noel.
Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  Dooley, Timmy. Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  Finneran, Michael.
Information on Michael Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Michael Fitzpatrick  Fitzpatrick, Michael. Information on Seán Fleming  Zoom on Seán Fleming  Fleming, Seán.
Information on Beverley Cooper-Flynn  Zoom on Beverley Cooper-Flynn  Flynn, Beverley. Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Gogarty, Paul. Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  Gormley, John.
Information on Noel Grealish  Zoom on Noel Grealish  Grealish, Noel. Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Hanafin, Mary.
Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  Haughey, Seán. Information on Jackie Healy-Rae  Zoom on Jackie Healy-Rae  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Information on Máire Hoctor  Zoom on Máire Hoctor  Hoctor, Máire. Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Kelleher, Billy.
Information on Peter Kelly  Zoom on Peter Kelly  Kelly, Peter. Information on Brendan Kenneally  Zoom on Brendan Kenneally  Kenneally, Brendan.
Information on Michael Kennedy  Zoom on Michael Kennedy  Kennedy, Michael. Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Kirk, Seamus.
 Kitt, Michael P. Information on Tom Kitt  Zoom on Tom Kitt  Kitt, Tom.
Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Lenihan, Brian. Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  Lenihan, Conor.
Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  Martin, Micheál. Information on Tom McEllistrim  Zoom on Tom McEllistrim  McEllistrim, Thomas.
Information on Mattie McGrath  Zoom on Mattie McGrath  McGrath, Mattie. Information on John McGuinness  Zoom on John McGuinness  McGuinness, John.
Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  Moloney, John. Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael.
Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  Mulcahy, Michael. Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  Nolan, M. J.
Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán. Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  O’Connor, Charlie.
Information on Willie O'Dea  Zoom on Willie O'Dea  O’Dea, Willie. Information on Noel O'Flynn  Zoom on Noel O'Flynn  O’Flynn, Noel.
Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  O’Hanlon, Rory. Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Batt.
Information on Ned O'Keeffe  Zoom on Ned O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Edward. Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  O’Rourke, Mary.
Information on Christy O'Sullivan  Zoom on Christy O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Christy. Information on Seán Power  Zoom on Seán Power  Power, Seán.
Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Roche, Dick. Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Sargent, Trevor.
Information on Eamon Scanlon  Zoom on Eamon Scanlon  Scanlon, Eamon. Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  Wallace, Mary.
Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  White, Mary Alexandra. Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Woods, Michael.



Níl
Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  Allen, Bernard. Information on Joe Behan  Zoom on Joe Behan  Behan, Joe.
Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat. Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P.
Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Bruton, Richard. Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Burke, Ulick.
Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  Burton, Joan. Information on Joe Carey  Zoom on Joe Carey  Carey, Joe.
Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune  Clune, Deirdre. Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Connaughton, Paul.
Information on Noel Coonan  Zoom on Noel Coonan  Coonan, Noel J. Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  Costello, Joe.
Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  Coveney, Simon. Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Crawford, Seymour.
Information on Michael Creed  Zoom on Michael Creed  Creed, Michael. Information on Lucinda Creighton  Zoom on Lucinda Creighton  Creighton, Lucinda.
Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy  D’Arcy, Michael. Information on John Deasy  Zoom on John Deasy  Deasy, John.
Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Deenihan, Jimmy. Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Durkan, Bernard J.
Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Enright, Olwyn. Information on Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  Ferris, Martin.
Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  Flanagan, Charles. Information on Terence Flanagan  Zoom on Terence Flanagan  Flanagan, Terence.
Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Gilmore, Eamon. Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hayes, Brian.
Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  Hayes, Tom. Information on Michael D. Higgins  Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  Higgins, Michael D.
Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  Howlin, Brendan. Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Kenny, Enda.
Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  Lynch, Ciarán. Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Lynch, Kathleen.
Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  McCormack, Pádraic. Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny.
Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  McGrath, Finian. Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  McManus, Liz.
Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell  Mitchell, Olivia. Information on Arthur Morgan  Zoom on Arthur Morgan  Morgan, Arthur.
Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  Naughten, Denis. Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan.
Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Noonan, Michael. Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus. Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Kieran.
Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus. Information on Jim O'Keeffe  Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Jim.
Information on John O'Mahony  Zoom on John O'Mahony  O’Mahony, John. Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  O’Shea, Brian.
Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Jan. Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  Penrose, Willie.
Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  Perry, John. Information on Ruairí Quinn  Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  Quinn, Ruairí.
Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Rabbitte, Pat. Information on Dr James Reilly  Zoom on Dr James Reilly  Reilly, James.
Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  Ring, Michael. Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  Shatter, Alan.
Information on Tom Sheahan  Zoom on Tom Sheahan  Sheahan, Tom. Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  Sheehan, P. J.
Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  Sherlock, Seán. Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Shortall, Róisín.
Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Stagg, Emmet. Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  Tuffy, Joanna.
Information on Mary Upton  Zoom on Mary Upton  Upton, Mary. Information on Leo Varadkar  Zoom on Leo Varadkar  Varadkar, Leo.
Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Wall, Jack.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Tom Hayes.

Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.


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